Which NHL Players Are the Best at Drawing Penalties?

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IOctober 25, 2013

Which NHL Players Are the Best at Drawing Penalties?

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    Steve Babineau/Getty Images

    Dustin Brown, Patrick Kaleta, Darren Helm and Jeff Skinner are modern day versions of master penalty drawers from the past like Tony Granato, Esa Tikkanen and Claude Lemieux. The penalties these players draw kill the clock, tire out opposing defenders and put goals on the scoreboard. Which of them do it best?

    Of course, not all situations are created equally. Players draw and take penalties at different rates in different manpower situations, especially depending on whether they're forwards or defensemen.

    That's why a new system developed in Hockey Prospectus 2013-14 looks at how many penalties a player was expected to draw based on his position and his ice time in various manpower situations, before comparing it to how many he actually did.

    Any penalties the player took himself are subtracted from these totals, since it doesn't help your team if you sometimes take on of your own in addition (or instead).

    While Brown, Kaleta and Skinner all made the list, the top spot went to someone somewhat surprising.

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted. 

10. Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 19

    Penalties Taken: 8

    Actual Differential: +11

    Expected Penalty Differential: +0.9

    Net: +10.1

    Jeff Skinner led the league in drawn penalties as a rookie in 2010-11, instantly joining the likes of Darren Helm and Dustin Brown as names synonymous with giving their teams the man advantage.

    A perpetual league leader, Skinner placed tenth in net penalty differential in 2012-13, just ahead of teammates Bobby Sanguinetti and Tim Gleason.

    Thanks to players like Skinner, Carolina has always been mysteriously strong at drawing and avoiding penalties as a team. Putting together a killer power play would go a long way to making Carolina a powerhouse.

9. Bryan Little, Winnipeg Jets

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 14

    Penalties Taken: 2

    Actual Differential: +12

    Expected Penalty Differential: +1.3

    Net: +10.7

    A surprise inclusion among the 2013 leaders in net penalty differential is the Jets' Bryan Little. His is not exactly a name that's frequently associated with elite penalty drawers (outside Winnipeg, at least), but it's an understandable byproduct of his hard work and intelligent play.

    Last year, Little played on the top line between Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler and did all the "little" things that help his linemates play at their highest level. Little's work ethic, conditioning and attitude are very highly regarded both in Winnipeg and around the league.

    The key to his penalty-drawing skills might be best explained by his scouting report over at House of Puck: "He has very good speed and acceleration and a strong lower body to help him fight through checks."

8. John Tavares, New York Islanders

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 19

    Penalties Taken: 7

    Actual Differential: +12

    Expected Penalty Differential: +1.1

    Net: +10.9

    One of John Tavares' many amazing talents is the ability to draw penalties. Given his speed, agility and puckhandling, what choice do some opponents have other than to haul him down?

    Tavares has been drawing penalties since his teenage rookie season in 2009-10, but he has really come into his own more recently. He led the league in raw penalty plus/minus in 2011-12 and placed eighth last year in net penalty differential.

    Tavares typically plays with Matt Moulson, who draws his fair share of penalties too, after which the two of them generally work the power play too. This is a great area of strength for the Islanders.

7. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

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    Don Smith/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 14

    Penalties Taken: 2

    Actual Differential: +12

    Expected Penalty Differential: +1.0

    Net: +11.0

    Parked in front of the net and causing traffic, Logan Couture bangs in a lot of goals and also draws a lot of penalties. With penalty-drawing players like Couture, not to mention Adam Burish (last season), Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, it's no wonder San Jose is currently leading the NHL in power-play opportunities.

    With success like that it's not uncommon to hear accusations that Couture and the Sharks are embellishing hits to draw penalties, like Kevin Bieksa most famously did in their first round matchup last year (video). "Couture, you can't go near the guy. He snaps his head back. He flails. You touch him after the whistle, and he's going to jump off the ice and throw himself into the glass."

    In fairness, that's a criticism one might hear about most of the names on this list. Couture himself accused Dustin Brown and the Los Angeles Kings of embellishment the very next round (source: CBS). The bottom line is that some players are simply more effective at drawing penalties than others, and Couture is one of them.

6. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 17

    Penalties Taken: 3

    Actual Differential: +14

    Expected Penalty Differential: +1.2

    Net: +12.8

    Last year's scoring leader Martin St. Louis is one of the league's toughest players, famously enduring some dental work on the bench after a high stick from Zbynek Michalek (video).

    At 5'8", his small size sometimes works to his advantage with regards to high sticks and elbows. Since he's not exactly the type of player one bounces off of, result-oriented calls can sometimes work in his favor too.

    While his size might get him a couple of calls, the bulk of his penalty drawing success is the speed generated by his incredible leg strength, plus the fact that he spends so much time in possession of the puck.

    Teammate Matthew Carle just missed the list and was top defenseman last year in net penalty differential.

5. Cory Conacher, Ottawa Senators

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    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 23

    Penalties Taken: 9

    Actual Differential: +14

    Expected Penalty Differential: +0.8

    Net: +13.2

    Despite being a rookie, Cory Conacher, who was acquired from Tampa Bay midseason in the Ben Bishop trade, finished fourth in the NHL last year in net penalty differential.

    Though his comparable size gives him the same edge as Martin St. Louis, Conacher did most of his penalty drawing by quickly establishing himself as a fast, high-energy player who gets into the grittier sections of the ice to battle it out.

    Conacher spoke with Chris Lund on the Ottawa Senator's official NHL site (source) about being feisty and drawing penalties, during which he summarized his intentions and the impact of a penalty drawer quite well. "I want to be in a pest in front of the net but I don't want to take penalties. There's that fine line but at the same if you do take a penalty make sure someone is going there with you because it always hurts the team. It tires out our defencemen if we're always in the box and it tires out our goalie too."

4. Patrick Kaleta, Buffalo Sabres

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    Jen Fuller/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 19

    Penalties Taken: 5

    Actual Differential: +14

    Expected Penalty Differential: +0.7

    Net: +13.3

    With a cap hit of just $1.25 million per season, Patrick Kaleta is an example of a player who earns his entire salary with just his penalty drawing alone.

    Unfortunately, Kaleta is one of the most unpopular players around the league and sometimes even at home. He was suspended ten games for a nasty hit on Jack Johnson October 10 and five games for boarding Brad Richards March 3. While his dirty play obviously doesn't belong in the NHL, it ultimately does lead to an awful lot of Sabre power plays.

    Nobody in the NHL is better at drawing penalties than Kaleta. From the time the statistic was first recorded in 2007-08 through the end of 2009-10, Kaleta was a jaw-droppingly good penalty drawing monster, doubling any other player on a per-60 minutes basis. While he has cooled off a bit since then, he's still the best.

    With 501 penalty minutes in 301 NHL games going into this season, a player would have to draw an awful lot of penalties to give his team an advantage, but that's exactly what he does. Those ahead of him on this list are those who draw fewer penalties but take even far fewer of their own.

3. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 25

    Penalties Taken: 10

    Actual Differential: +15

    Expected Penalty Differential: +1.1

    Net: +13.9

    Dustin Brown, the modern day poster child for drawing penalties, is one of the league's complete, do-it-all players. He plays with a lot of energy and toughness, throws a lot of hits and is always among the league leaders in penalty drawing.

    If there's a criticism of Brown's play it was best expressed by former NHL official Kerry Fraser last May: diving (source: TSN). While Fraser "always admired the quiet leadership and aggressive, hard-hitting play that Dustin Brown has demonstrated throughout his NHL career," he also felt "it is most unbecoming when they employ this tactic."

    How does Brown feel about this? Based on an October 9th interview with Jon Rosen (source, with video), the key to drawing penalties is more about speed. To quote Brown, "Tonight I thought we were better about moving our feet, and as a result we’re a hard team to handle and teams take penalties."

    Whether it's embellishment or speed, the bottom line is that Brown consistently gets Los Angeles the man advantage.

2. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 24

    Penalties Taken: 8

    Actual Differential: +16

    Expected Penalty Differential: +1.2

    Net: +14.8

    Despite the disappointing start to this season by both him and his entire team, Claude Giroux is one of the NHL's elite players. He's an exceptional player at both ends of the ice, an incredible playmaker and, of course, a master penalty drawer.

    There are several different styles of penalty-drawing players, like pests, crease-standing power forwards and the high-energy short guys. Giroux is part of a different category, where elite players draw hooking and holding penalties with their exceptional speed and acceleration.

    On a team that's among the most physical in the league, it helps to have a player who can help draw things even. If you include last year's occasional linemate Matt Read, the Flyers have two.

1. Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Abelimages/Getty Images

    Penalties Drawn: 35

    Penalties Taken: 7

    Actual Differential: +28

    Expected Penalty Differential: +1.0

    Net: +27.0

    Nazem Kadri has absolutely astounding numbers last year, drawing 28 more penalties than he took, almost double anyone else. In part, this goes to show some of the tremendous bounces and breaks Toronto enjoyed last year.

    How does he do it? According to Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun (source), "Kadri draws penalties because he beats opponents to the open ice and is often hooked or tripped."

    His speed, agility and a little luck were no doubt big factors in his success last year and perhaps even his mouthKadri is known for being a bit of a yapper. Whatever it is, players find it hard to resist taking liberties on the talented youngster and consequently handing the Leafs an extra power play every game or two.


    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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